Hi everyone! It's been a while since my last column–a lot going on over here at the moment!–but I'm thrilled to be back with another Ask Kelly. I love, love, love this question about how to best help and support friends who are single and dating, and I've had a lot of really great submissions lately, so a massive thank you to everyone who has written in recently. Keep them coming!! I've also decided to switch up the photos on my column to keep things feeling more ~fresh~ so this month, please enjoy this ridiculous photo of me at a friend's wedding on a lake in Minnesota with a massive bruise on my leg.
Hi Kelly! How do you recommend supporting friends who are currently in the dating scene and feeling like the pool is drying up? I've tried a few date set ups, gave my suggestions for boosting their profiles, and stay engaged by asking when they have upcoming dates. That said, I want to make sure I'm coming across as truly supportive (and not at all 'above' them since I'm now married). What do you think would be most helpful from friends for young 30 somethings trying to navigate the dating scene? –Asking For a Friend
Dear Asking For a Friend,
I love this question, and I’m so glad you asked it. As a person who spent much of my twenties and part of my early thirties single while almost all of my friends were married or in relationships, you’ve come to the right place! I think some of my advice might surprise you.
Before I get into it, there’s something I want to discuss first. Some of the phrasing you used in your question made me think of this article: ‘What You Lose When You Gain A Spouse’ from The Atlantic, which discusses America’s biases towards marriage and what marriage means in the context of modern American culture. One particularly memorable line from the article reads: “In popular culture, the sentiment still prevails that marriage makes us happy and divorce leaves us lonely, and that never getting married at all is a fundamental failure of belonging.” For anyone reading this, does that ring true for you? Do you agree or disagree that single people (especially women) are ultimately viewed as a “failure” if they haven’t found a partner or gotten married by a certain age?
I know that the question of how to help your single friends find love when you’re married comes from a good place. Of course it does! But I do think it’s worth examining our collective thoughts and feelings about single women in their thirties (and beyond), both in general and how it relates to interacting with our friends. The mere existence of terribly outdated words like spinster (an unmarried woman who is older than the “usual” age for marriage, which used to be 26) and old maid (a single woman who is considered “too old” for marriage) immediately come to mind, as does the idea of a biological clock and the feeling like we’re “running out of time,” which I’m 99% sure you’ve heard at least one of your friends talk about recently; none of which apply to men. Imagine a man in his thirties who’s single and never been married – what opinions do you have of him, if any at all? Maybe we think he’s a player or a “fuckboy,” but we generally agree that he’s more likely to be single because he chooses to be, not because he can’t find the right match. Right?
I bring all this up only because you said you want to make sure you’re not coming across as ‘above’ your single friends (who I assume are mostly women, given the readership of this blog) because you’re married. Is that because subconsciously, you do feel a tiny bit superior to your friends who aren’t coupled up? I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, or that you came to feel that way on your own–I think America has a bit of an obsession with marriage that’s hard to ignore. I myself am planning on getting married and it’s something I’m very much looking forward to, so I’m guilty, too. You’ve tried really hard already to support your single friends by helping with dating profiles, setting your friends up, and trying to be really engaged in the process, which I think is a really nice thing to do. But are you going above and beyond to help your single friends find love because a majority of people seem to feel that coupledom (and eventually, marriage) is the pinnacle of societal acceptance? And if so, should we be thinking about ways to de-emphasize marriage as the center of our culture, and replace it with community instead? (A topic for another day…)
But back to the original question! I have a lot of experience on both sides of the single/couple equation, which has really broadened my perspective on the topic of how coupled people can help and support their single friends. I was single for a lot of my 10 years in Los Angeles, and the last thing I would have wanted was to feel “othered” by friends who were happily paired off, or any secondhand anxiety (or pity) about the dating pool feeling dismal. I never saw it as my friends’ responsibility to actively help me date in any way – sure, one time I was introduced to a friend of a friend and got an ex-boyfriend out of it – but mostly I craved support from my friends in a completely different way.
People who are coupled have a tendency to hang out with other couples. Whether you realize you’re doing it or not, if you’re part of a couple, it’s easier (or possibly “safer”?) to ask another couple to go do something together. Three (or one, or five) can sometimes feel like a strange or uncomfortable number. A ‘third wheel’ is literally defined as a “superfluous, unwanted third party accompanying two people on a date”. But the best support I have ever received from friends while I was single was just being included, no matter my relationship status.
My friends Eric and Lisa–who lived within walking distance from me for almost four years in Los Angeles–are, in my opinion, the golden standard of supportive friends. They’ve been a couple as long as I’ve known them, but I have a relationship with each person that exists without the other, and I feel like it has made a huge difference. I legitimately cannot count the amount of times I’ve been out to dinner with them, just the three of us, or to the farmer’s market, or over to their house just to hang out and drink wine. I don’t think it’s ever mattered to them whether I’m single or in a relationship – three people is just as good as four.
While it might be tempting to want to help your single friends in a more active way, I’d suggest just making sure they don’t feel forgotten about. I’ll never forget finding out that a big group of my close friends were planning a big trip to Hawaii and didn’t invite me. No singles were invited, and finding out they’d all been planning a fun trip without me was crushing. I don’t think it was malicious intent by any means, I think they legitimately just forgot about me, or figured the trip would be too expensive because I didn’t have anyone to share a room with. One of my very best friends is single (post-divorce), and I basically forced her to start hanging out with Jess and me last fall. I wouldn’t take no for an answer when she tried to back out of a viewing of The Bachelorette because “she didn’t watch it and didn’t want to intrude”, and now I’ve not only created a monster (welcome to the pit), but the three of us have a group chat that is literally in my top five favorite things in the known universe.
Another way you can support your single friends is to celebrate their singledom along the way, especially when it means they’ve refused to settle or gotten out of a relationship that wasn’t right. Finding an amazing forever partner may be the ultimate end goal (if that’s what your friends want – don’t just assume), but lifting up your friends when they leave a relationship that doesn’t work is essential too! My best friend never introduced me to anyone or helped me with my dating profile (actually… I did make her take my main Hinge profile picture for me, haha), but she always had an ear open for me, even through the worst of times. She’s been with her husband for a decade (they met in college), and although our experiences in dating have been wildly different, it’s never been a ~thing~. Jess has always done an incredible job of making our friendship feel like a priority. We even *let* her husband watch The Bachelor with us every season!!
If you want to lend a hand in a more active way, your single friends who are dating (or want to be) need photos of themselves they can use on their dating profiles. Selfies are not going to cut it, and the best pictures for dating profiles are somewhat candid photos of happy people just doing their thing. If you can snap a picture of your single friend looking good, they’ll be super grateful for you. Just don’t go overboard and take *too* many photos (guilty, lol, sorry Maya).
Try to treat your friends the same whether they’re single and looking, just out of a bad relationship, coupled up, uninterested in dating, divorced, or otherwise. If you catch yourself inviting your friends to dinner more often when they’re coupled up, it’s never too late to course correct. Remember that people aren’t defined by their relationship status, and the best way to support your friends is probably easier than you think.
I've been with my partner, whom I love, for close to a year now. There are two areas that we disagree upon: health and cleanliness. I'm noticing that I'm nagging him about drinking more water, exercising, cleaning his room, etc. How much can you ask someone to change? What are some strategies to help support him and for me to manage my expectations? While it's not a deal breaker, I also fear I will be quite frustrated in the future. –Expectations Anonymous
This is a tough question, but I think it’s one that most people run into at some point in their lives, especially when you’re dating in your 20s. Wanting to change a partner is nothing new, but it’s never an easy question to answer. There’s no way that any partner you choose will be a 100% match for your thoughts, opinions, habits, attitudes, etc.–it’s just not possible. I think a good place to start is by taking a closer look at what you’re wanting your partner to change and why that’s important to you.
You used the word “nagging” to describe your behavior towards your partner, which I think ventures into slightly uncomfortable territory. Nagging to me feels more like a parent-child relationship, which is obviously not something you want in a romantic relationship! Every time you’re tempted to nag, I would encourage you to dig a little deeper and examine what it is that’s bothering you about the behavior. When your partner doesn’t exercise, does that make you feel like he’s lazy, or just busy? When he doesn’t clean his room, does it make you feel like he’s a messy, inconsiderate person, or is his approach to being at home just more relaxed than yours?
One important thing to consider is whether you’re asking your partner to change something that directly affects you or not. How much water your partner drinks doesn’t directly affect you, so why do you nag him about it? I think an obvious answer is that drinking water is generally a healthy thing to do (I certainly feel better when I’m hydrated), and you care about your partner and want “what’s best” for them. But your partner is an adult. Beyond making sure that you’re drinking a lot of water and offering it to your partner too (try just randomly handing your partner a LaCroix sometime and see what happens), I’d encourage you to take a beat and ask yourself: Why does it bother you that he doesn’t drink more water? Is it fair for you to be so annoyed by something that doesn’t involve you?
The things you listed–drinking water, exercising, and cleaning his room–feel to me like you’re really just wanting your partner to act more like an adult. Haven’t we all dated someone who was a little immature before??? I don’t know how old you are, but if you’re on the younger side, this is something that might get better over time. Instead of taking an agitated approach to his behavior, try redirecting your focus to some of his other, more positive attributes when you’re dealing with things that don’t directly affect you. You’re allowed to be disappointed and it’s good to acknowledge that, but every time you feel annoyed, try thinking of one really specific thing you love and appreciate about your partner. What does he offer or do that was missing in your past relationships?
The one behavior you listed that does affect you (I assume) is cleaning his room. I can 100% understand why you probably wouldn’t want to stay overnight in a super messy environment; I wouldn’t either. One simple thing you can try (after you’ve already brought it up with him nicely several times, which I assume you’ve already done) is to set a boundary. Tell your partner that his messiness prevents you from feeling comfortable at his place, and you would prefer not to come over when it’s a mess. See how he reacts to setting this boundary. If he feels bad and then makes an effort to clean up so that you’ll come over again, that seems like a good sign. He might regress later, but you know his intentions are good. Try to work with your partner, not against him, to make the situation better for both of you.
It’s worth thinking about if “health” as a general category is a misalignment in your relationship that you can get over. In my opinion, a person’s approach to health/wellness is a defining lifestyle trait for many people. I had an ex who tried his best to turn me into a runner (his favorite hobby) and it never stuck. He made it pretty clear from the beginning that his type was a “fitness gal”, which doesn’t describe me very well (lol). Over time I definitely grew resentful. I remember thinking at the time, if he wanted so badly to date someone that he could work out with, why on Earth did he choose me?
Accepting your partner despite their quirks, traits, and little behaviors you may not perfectly align with is an important part of any relationship that is going to last. Like you said, none of the things you listed necessarily sound like dealbreakers to me, but I think it’s up to you to decide how annoyed you are by them, and whether you think you can change if your partner never does. The only person’s behavior you can truly control is your own, and a little gratitude for the things you love about your partner can sometimes go a long way.